It’s been four years since Choir of Young Believers’ Jannis Noya Makrigiannis has released an album. The hiatus, it seems, was due to a general disillusionment with music. But the spark of inspiration for Grasque was something as simple as a pocket sampler, and its influence is felt immediately on opening track “Olimpiyskiy,” a brief mix of live samples and Makrigiannis’ ethereal cooing. The rest of the album takes this approach to heart, with all 12 tracks featuring various samples and synths looped into an ambient soundscape that blends prog, techno and experimental music.

In many ways, Grasque brings COYB full-circle. 2012’s Rhine Gold was a collaborative affair and featured many supporting musicians, but debut album This Is for the White in Your Eyes was much more of a solo effort. Grasque, likewise, bears the influence of producer Aske Zidore and in virtually all other respects is Makrigiannis through and through. But that unfortunately translates into a fairly monochromatic album this time around. The styles – and there are many – that COYB explores are sonically intriguing, but the insistent fog of synthesizers and dreamy vocals from Makrigiannis start to run together, especially on an album that’s nearly an hour in duration.

The length is due in part to the number of tracks that run over five and even seven minutes long. “Serious Lover” plays like an ominous soundtrack to a rave. It layers Makrigiannis’ moody vocals over drum machines and blippy synths for what turns out to be one of the most accessible tracks here. “Face Melting” could have been the most accessible track, if it weren’t for the song’s random pitch-altering and downright disturbing and distorted “come on”s. Aspects of the track, especially the gorgeous harmonies on the chorus, align with chillwave pop, but its experimental touches, including the harsh breakdown in the final third, become distracting more than anything else.

“Jeg Ser Dig” gets right what “Face Melting” gets wrong, though. With a stuttering beat and glossy ’80s callbacks, it reconciles its musical influences into pop beauty. It’s avant-garde that doesn’t sacrifice its arrangement for the sake of confounding its listeners. Similarly, “Cloud Nine” puts COYB’s orchestral chops to the test over sprawling synths and adds a touch of whimsy with some twinkling keyboards. Divided into two clear sections, the first is more dramatic and romantic while the second slows down the tempo and lets Makrigiannis’ vocals heap on the sentimentality. And while the looped beat on “Perfect Estocada” becomes repetitive, that track’s pad synths, brief classical guitar and layered choir vocals are a highlight.

Separating these more straightforward tracks, within the context of this album, at least, are several brief, ambient interludes. They serve little purpose but do intensify the already heady fog that these dreamy atmospherics create. To an extent, it sounds like Makrigiannis has attempted to keep each track flowing into the next. That’s a concept that can play nicely, but on Grasque it only draws attention to how similar the tracks all sound.

Grasque has its moments of ambient pop genius, but it’s ultimately a hard listen. Makrigiannis is at no loss for wide-ranging musical influences, but he filters them all through the same looping synthesizer lens. It’s all very ethereal, and its moments of beauty are just as much indebted to Makrigiannis’ voice as his arrangements. But at 58 minutes, Grasque can’t help but leave listeners with the impression that COYB has regressed in its sonic palette rather than opened up more through experimentation.

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